The Lead Up
In November 2019 I competed in a powerlifting meet (780lb total at 129lb bodyweight) and ran my first full marathon (in 3:50:xx), in less than 36 hours. This is my full recap. I split it into 3+ parts because I didn’t want to constrain my thoughts about it in any way.
I hated running growing up. I played soccer and ran track, and for both, distance runs were punishment. I could race the 400m or run in a game because I felt there was a purpose, but I could never find purpose in running distance until I was forced to while recovering from a lifting-related injury. I started to love it, and sought coaching. This was about 5 years ago, and was I how was introduced to the idea of being a “hybrid athlete.” I was training both powerlifting and to complete my first half marathon simultaneously with the help of both a performance coach and a nutrition coach. I loved the training, down to hard mile repeats I’d do at 5am on Fifth Ave between Shady and Negley (for anyone who needs it, it’s a perfect “Pittsburgh flat” half mile to fill in when you can’t get to the track). I completed my first 13.1 mile race then, finishing somewhere around 1:51:xx. I was proud of it but wanted to do more.
For a variety of reasons, I gave up this training. It’s extremely time-intensive – with my life at that time I was training at 4:30am before work and then sometimes again at 8pm after grad classes. It also brought out some ugly behaviors and habits, ultimately culminating in my eating disorder diagnosis. I’d done what many runners do and assumed that the lighter I was the faster I’d be. There is of course some truth to this, but in my case it was just an excuse to get smaller. The first part of my recovery was to stop training, completely, and I did.
After 5+ years of working through recovery, my interest in running slowly reemerged. I’d been casually running a few miles here and there since 2017 or so, usually just in the warmer months and whenever it felt good. I’d never really stopped competing in powerlifting, so I always had to figure out ways to fit my running hobby in while only doing minor damage to my strength training.
In the summer of 2019, I started taking my running more seriously. I was adding it in 2-3 days per week, including a longer run (at the time, anything over 4 miles was pretty long!) every weekend after teaching a morning cardio class. In addition, I had finally gotten the urge to do a powerlifting meet, after over a year of avoiding the big three. So I figured, why not both?
Why not both?
And really, there are a lot of reasons NOT to do both. The reality is that I’d never be truly elite at two sport on opposite ends of the energy system spectrum at the same time. Something will always have to give in training. A lot of compromises need to be made. Remember, I’d done something like this before that led to dire mental results, AND I knew the insane time commitment I’d need to make.
On the other hand, I don’t necessarily desire to be a truly elite athlete; I just want to experience my own personal physical limits. And if my personal goals include both long distance running and powerlifting, I’m going to figure out the limit for both in as many ways as I can! The time constraint issue still exists, but was more manageable as a single person who just worked 50+ hours per week.
The mental aspect was the one piece that gave me pause. I’d been doing pretty well in my recovery. I had ups and downs, but the trend had been positive. I felt prepared to handle the rigors of training, but had to make the hard decision to ACTIVELY NOT cut my calories in any way. It may seem simple to say, but overriding that need to control my intake and my size, to eat more than I think I need, is often extremely difficult. But I was determined, I was finally excited to compete at something again, so I dove in.
The original plan was to do a powerlifting meet on a Saturday, then run another half-marathon on a Sunday. That seemed reasonable. So in August, I told my coworkers that was my goal, that I intended to do it in November if possible, and then I started training and searching for events that might work well together.
While there were quite a few meets to choose from, I was constantly coming up short on a suitable race. At one point I was looking at a meet in West Virginia, then driving 6 hours to some tiny PA town for the race the next day. I even considered running the Pittsburgh Half course on my own and saving the “official” combined event for the spring, when I knew I’d have more options. Then, I mentioned that I was searching for a race to one of my classes in passing, and someone piped up to say I should consider the Philly Marathon. I’d completely forgotten that my hometown’s biggest race is held every year in November, and later discovered why – they were doing the half on Saturday this year, and only the full marathon would be held on Sunday. So it hadn’t come up in my searches.
It also happened that there was a big meet happening in York, PA, just two hours from Philly, that same exact weekend. And as luck would have it, all the women in that meet would be lifting on Saturday.
I took about 24 hours to make the obvious decision – I was officially changing my training plan to run my first full marathon on November 23 after competing at IPA Nationals on Nov 22. It was too perfect to pass up.
The full marathon was intimidating. I never saw myself as someone who could finish that kind of race. I’m too big, too bulky, too slow, too weak. The 13.1 distance felt long, but doable, and I’d gotten okay at it, with a 1:47:xx finish on a hilly Morgantown, WV course in September. To double that distance? It was the first athletic challenge I’d taken on where I really wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. And that was all the more reason for me to try.